This article was written by Prof. Herman Hanko and was originally published in the June, 2008 issue of the Beacon Lights.
I have been asked to write a few articles on the antithesis, following the article of Rev. Eriks, who introduced the subject. I have chosen to write this article on the importance of the antithesis for Christian witnessing. That the people of God, including young people, are called to be witnesses goes without saying. Scripture is clear on this and points to our witnessing as being an important part of the life of the child of God. That witnessing is a part of the antithesis is something to which we have not given much thought and an idea we might, as a matter of fact, find surprising.
I appeal in my defense of this topic to I Peter 3:15, a text which also is a strong hook on which I intend to hang most of what I say. The text reads: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.”
That this text is rooted in the antithesis is proved by two separate points. The first is that Peter, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, writes this letter to those whom he calls “strangers” in 1:1 and as “pilgrims and strangers” in 2:11. Now a pilgrim and stranger is one who is forced to live in a foreign land for a while, because his home is in another place. He has no understanding of the language of the land in which he sojourns; the customs of that people are foreign to him; no one knows him and he knows no one; he is a foreigner.
The life of a spiritual stranger in the world is the antithesis in the life of a child of God. He lives in heaven where his home is. He speaks a heavenly language and lives according to the “customs” of those who are citizens of the kingdom of heaven. He is on a journey towards his home, a home that John Bunyan, in his “Pilgrim’s Progress,” called “The Celestial City,” but is also our Father’s house of many mansions (John 14:2). The pilgrim sings “This world is not my home; I’m only passing through.” Or, perhaps, “I am a stranger here, dependent on Thy grace, a pilgrim, as my fathers were, with no abiding place.”
I Peter 3:15 is a rule of the kingdom of heaven for the way in which Christians ought to witness. They are witnessing, therefore, as a part of their antithetical life in the world.
The second clue in the text that Peter is talking about the antithesis when he lays down this fundamental rule for witnessing is the first line in the text: “Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts.” In spite of the startling character of the admonition, Peter presents that admonition as the only way in which it is possible for one to witness and abide by the rule of witnessing that Peter lays down here. Without going into detail on the meaning of this surprising admonition, it is clear that Peter cannot mean that we must make God holy in our hearts, for God is holy in himself; and, worse, we are wicked. But Peter does mean that the holiness of God must become manifest in all our lives, if we are to witness to Christ. We are to listen to Peter’s admonition in 1:15: “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation (“conversation” meaning “all one’s activities”).
Thus witnessing has to do with the antithesis because an antithetical life is a holy life. If, therefore, Peter says that we must be holy in order to witness, witnessing is an important part of an antithetical life. That seems clear enough. A sinful man does not live an antithetical life; but a sinful man cannot witness either.
One more point needs to be made before I actually get at this matter of witnessing. That point is this: an antithetical life does not only include one’s manner of life (one’s “life-style,” if you wish); it includes also the confession of the truth that we love as Christian young people, and as Protestant Reformed young people. God has created an antithesis between the truth and the lie.
The devil promotes the lie, and if one would look about him in the world today, a world full of lies, one would almost conclude that the devil has won. The lie is preached and taught in 99% of the world’s churches and in 99% of the schools. The lie is sometimes blatant and sometimes subtle; but it is always the lie. The truth on the other hand is found in Scripture and in Scripture alone. We can discover no other source of truth than the Holy Bible, God’s inspired word of truth.
It is interesting and something never to forget that the holiness that witnessing demands is a holiness that arises out of a knowledge and love for the truth. What a man believes has everything in the world to do with how he lives. If he believes in evolutionism, a mother’s fetus is a blob of tissue that can be destroyed without compunction. If a man believes that God has not given man a code of conduct in the ten commandments, homosexuality is a perfectly legitimate alternate life-style.
A Christian witness is, therefore, far more than the sometimes frantic activity of going around, cornering people and asking them if they are saved, or if they have received Christ into their hearts. It is far more than handing out tracts of one sort or another with bland and hopelessly watered-down advertisements of one’s church.
While one must indeed witness to all the truth, in a nutshell the truth is simply this: “In all this sin-driven and vile world where God is denied and Christ is mocked, we shout as loud as we can for all to hear that God is the sovereign of the creation and Christ is King! And we serve the Lord Christ!”
That is witnessing.
One more point has to be made about witnessing before we look at I Peter 3:15.
I refer to the fact that Scripture makes clear that our witnessing has a certain divine power about it that is similar to and even identical with the preaching of the gospel. This is clear from Matthew 5:16 where Jesus says to citizens of the kingdom of heaven: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Peter says the same thing in I Peter 2:12: “Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.”
Both these texts emphatically assert that God uses our good works to save others. It seems to me to be clear that when one to whom we witness glorifies God, he is saved and acknowledges God as the God of his salvation. The Heidelberg Catechism supports this interpretation when it gives as one of the reasons for doing good works that “by our godly conversation others may be gained to Christ” (Lord’s Day 32, Q&A 86).
We must, however, continue our discussion of this subject in the next issue of Beacon Lights.